Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A nation of immigrants

Real life has been intruding rudely on my blogging time.  I will try to step up, but nothing seems to be slowing down this summer.

I sense from the comments on my last post that there is some demand to talk about US immigration policy as it pertains to the scientific community (undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, scholars, faculty members).  I've been doing what little I can to try to push back against what's going on.  I think the US has benefited enormously from being a training destination for many of the world's scientists and engineers - the positive returns to the country overall and the economy have been almost unquantifiably large.  Current policies seem to me to be completely self-defeating.  As I wrote over three years ago alluding to budget cuts (which thankfully Congress never implemented), there is hysteresis and an entropic component in policy-making.  It's depressingly easy to break things that can be very difficult to repair.  Using immigration policy to push away the world's scientists and engineers from the US is a terrible mistake that runs the risk of decades of long-term negative consequences.


Henry Axt said...

What do you think about Eric Weinstein's paper about how an artificial labour shortage was created to exploit and underpay the scientific community?

You can find the paper here:

Anonymous said...

Henry, thanks for your comment. Given how the world is getting increasingly globalized and Americans are facing global competition, we will need to lower prevailing wages for scientists and engineers in the US to prevent outsourcing to other countries. As an American engineer with a PhD, I am fully aware of the fact that there are engineers of the same caliber in China and India who can get the job done for a third of the price. Therefore, if we cut off H1Bs and stop foreign students from getting Green Cards, we will just inevitably send more work overseas, where it can be done with the same or better quality at much lower costs. To give you an example, TSMC, the world's largest semiconductor manufacturer, is in the lead in technology over Intel, even though TSMC pays its Taiwanese engineers a lot less than what Intel pays its American engineers.

Anonymous said...

The worst thing about USA is its capitalist culture. Why cannot it learn from France or Italy for providing quality healthcare at affordable rates. Strange!!

Douglas Natelson said...

Henry, I think it greatly overestimates the coherence of US policy and policymakers, and of universities, to argue that there was some deliberate plan to lower or depress wages for technically skilled workers in the US. Bear in mind that nearly ALL wages in the US have failed to keep up with the earnings growth of the top of the wealth spectrum. Sure, if the average salary of a US technical PhD was $1M per year, more Americans would try to get doctorates in technical fields than now, but that doesn’t mean that the primary cause for international scientists and engineers studying in the US is the level of compensation to US degree holders.

The US has been viewed, rightly, as a place to get top flight education, training, and access to state of the art facilities and resources. The US has historically been more prosperous, with more perceived opportunities for advancement in society and rewards for entrepreneurship than many other countries. The nation has benefited greatly from both the flux of skilled people through the country temporarily and the net accumulation of some of those immigrants here - they have produced many companies, much innovation, and great economic value. I worry that we are doing damage to this, in ways that will hurt all of us for many years afterward.